Blending Into the Crowd

A 2.10 meter character with horns and wearing a red cloak, how discreet can she be and how plausible is it to stalk a couple of assassins?

Medieval fantasy world, Dragon Age, the Qunari are not especially common in the rest of Thedas…

Pretty sure, “discreet Qunari,” is an oxymoron. Granted, it’s been a minute since I paid close attention to Dragon Age (or, really any Bioware series), but remember, we’re talking about the race that thinks that, “subtly,” involves telling people you’re there to spy on them. This isn’t to say they’re stupid, just that they have an incredibly direct and inflexible approach to the world. (Note: that this is sometimes used by the series writers to compel characters to act in idiotic ways. Generally this is a cliché you’d want to avoid when writing fantasy.)

So, now you have an extra question, “how discreet can a Qunari be?” The answer seems to be, “not very.”

As for how well they can blend into a crowd? They can’t. Seriously, they can’t at all. Dragon Age doesn’t have any other large civilized races, Similarly, as you observed, Qunari are an unusual sight outside of their territory. This is for two reasons: They don’t generally mix with non-Qunari, and renegade Qunari (called Tal-Vashoth) are pretty rare. (Even if DA2 tasks you with carving through literal legions of them. Thanks Varric.)

So, when you’re trying to blend into a crowd, you want as many traits that are shared with members of the crowd as possible. The easy things this can include are details like your clothing, height, and the visibility of any weapons you may be carrying.

So, let’s start with the cloak. Ironically, vibrant red is not, automatically, a deal breaker. If you are somewhere with a lot of vibrant colors in the clothes, having a dull or washed out cloak would, ironically, stand out far more, than a bright red one. Conversely, if we’re talking about someplace like Kirkwall or Denerim, it’s going to stand out quite a bit. Dragon Age, generally, trends into a more muted color palette in general. Now, this is a valid setting choice, but it’s not, “historically authentic.” In actual world history, dyes, and the vibrant clothes that could be produced as a result were a were a major trade good. This is something you’ll sometimes see in fantasy, and alternately you’ll see fantasy settings that bleed the color out. In fact, both could, legitimately, occur in different regions of the same setting (which is supposed to be the case in Dragon Age.)

So, if your clothing is not consistent with the crowd, that’s going to make you stand out more. Bold colors in a city that likes to cosplay as a sand and dirt showcase will be easy to notice.

Worth remembering that this can change depending on district. It’s possible that a city’s port, bazaar, administrative, and noble districts would have a far more diverse array of clothing styles, but moving into laborer and crafter quarters would see the vibrancy quickly disappear. In situations like this, a character seeking to remain anonymous would probably need to ditch their vibrant clothing (if possible.)

So far as it goes (since I mentioned it four paragraphs ago), weapons are a similar situation. If your character is visibly armed, in a city with a lot of armed individuals, it won’t automatically stand out, unless your character’s weapons are conspicuous in some way.

Height is a simpler issue. If you’re taller than the average height of the crowd, you’ll stand out more. Conversely, if you’re shorter than the average height of the crowd, you’ll have a harder time tailing someone.

Other physical characteristics like hair color and skin tone can make you stand out from the crowd, in a non-cosmopolitan setting. Basically, if you don’t look like the locals, you’ll be easier to quickly identify by anyone looking for a tail. Obviously, a hooded cloak can help to conceal this, unless of course people wearing a hood is not the norm, in which case that’s conspicuous.

Somewhat obviously, most of the locals in your case are not going to be 2.1m, grey skinned, or sprouting horns (which will still be visible, even if she’s wearing a hood.)

Another unique problem your character faces to avoiding being noticed isn’t just that she physically stands out, it’s that her race has a very real reputation in the setting. The Qunari, upon arriving on Thedas, immediately launched into an aggressive crusade, conquering fairly significant chunks of territory before grinding into a stalemate in Tevinter. Your character isn’t just physically imposing, she’s immediately recognizable as a member of a race that is trying to conquer and subjugate the continent, a fact that will not be lost on anyone who sees her.

So, to sum it up, you’ve got a character who will stand a head taller than the crowd, has distinctive, upward sweeping horns, is (maybe) trying to hide that under a hood, of a vibrant eye catching color, and is a member of a race that is immediately noteworthy, on sight. So, “blending into the crowd,” is going to be borderline impossible.

-Starke

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